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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Which Way Is Up?

Today was a day which made me miss being a principal. It's not that serving as a principal is any easier than working as a superintendent (it's not). It's just that a principal engages with what really counts - the learners, more than a superintendent, who engages with what really matters (the budget, state regulations...) in terms of making sure that everything is in place so the staff can work with the learners. I've been trying hard as the Green Island superintendent to meet the obligations to what matters while also indulging in a fair share of what counts.

Forms, forms, forms... Reports, reports, reports... all added up to a great deal of paper and more than a little consternation. I was beneath so much paper it was a struggle to find out which way is up. I felt more like a manager today than a leader. One of my favorite books is entitled Leaders, with a subtitle of Leaders Do the Right Thing - Managers Do Things Right (by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus). I spent a lot of time on filling in small boxes with large numbers instead of interacting with the faces and stories behind many of those numbers. While the forms and reports that are mandated by the State Department of Education are necessary, they often reassert the large appetite of bureaucracy. It's important to respond to these legitimate requests for information, yet it seems to all happen at once.

The BEDS (Basic Education Data System) is an annual collection of information from all public schools during every October. It asks for the breakdown of learners by grade, race, socio-economic status (whether they're eligible for free or reduced lunch) and gender, but it goes on to seek everything from the years of experience of each teacher to the number of books in the Library, from the location of interactive whiteboards to the percentage of computers that are connected to the Internet - and almost everything in between. At times, it appears misguided, as if the state education department is measuring things that can be measured when there are more important questions that aren't asked because they don't lend themselves to quantification. For example, what's more important - the number of books in the Library or how often those books are checked out?, or how old are the books?, or what is the condition of the books? This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes - "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." (Sir George Pickering)

At the same time, we have to account for the use and distribution of money received by federal funds in specific grants (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) last year, as well as how we plan to use the money this year. There's also quarterly reports due at the same time. Again, the accountability is essential and certainly worthwhile and understandable - but wow, forms, forms, forms...

On to the application that must be completed and submitted for the $3,800 we are scheduled to receive in each of the next four years through the recent award to our state of a competitive federal grant called the Race To The Top. That's due soon.

Not to mention the Annual Fire Inspection report. By the way, our special fire drill last Friday went well. The drill did expose some areas where we can improve, particularly with the process of quickly accounting for everyone in the building. Communication will be more concise and precise. All in all, it was a constructive learning experience for us all. A big thank you to the local fire department for their involvement and cooperation. They were great, especially when rescuing our secretary from atop the roof with a hook and ladder in a planned exercise.

There sure are a lot of forms (and perhaps a few less trees in the Adirondacks) but tomorrow I get to escape the office for a bit while I serve as the Mystery Reader in a second grade class. If you're a parent of a second grader, don't say anything - they've been guessing the identity of the Mystery Reader for a week now based on clues their teacher has offered them each day. I'm anxious to sit with them and read a book to the class - as long as I don't have to fill out a form to be the Mystery Reader.

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